The largest, least populous, northernmost state of the United States of America is a veritable paradise for those who enjoy the great outdoors. Its relatively remote geography and lengthy coastal borders make it a popular destination for cruise ships. In fact, capital city Juneau is only accessible by ship or plane — there are no roads to connect it to the rest of the continent!
For a state that touches the Arctic circle, the climate is pleasantly diverse. In the southeastern (aka “Pan Handle”) region where Juneau belongs, summers are warm and mild, and sunlight stretches to a whopping 18 hours per day. Here’s an itinerary that will maximize your trip to Juneau:
All across Alaska you’ll stumble upon breathtaking glaciers that sit atop rugged mountains or melt right into majestic lakes. The 800-meter-wide Mendenhall Glacier, about 20 kilometers outside of Juneau and part of the Tongass National Forest, is one of the most accessible in the region. There are a few ways to reach the rapidly retreating glacier: you can hire a local taxi or take a shuttle bus straight to the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center, which offers some spectacular views. Or sign up for a helicopter tour — like the ones offered by Temsco — and enjoy a scenic ride before you land right on the glacier itself. Most of the helicopter tours offer a combination of flight-seeing and a glacier-related activity (like a glacier hike, or dog-sledding) in their packages.
If glaciers are a must-see in Alaska, dog-sledding (aka dog mushing) on a glacier is a must-do. The easiest way to experience this exhilarating snow sport is to sign up for a combination helicopter tour, which includes a flight straight to the musher camp at a designated glacier—if you fly out from Juneau, this means the Mendenhall. Get acquainted with your head musher, give a few encouraging pats to the dozen or so energetic Alaskan huskies that will be pulling your sled, and off you go!
Besides icy scenery, there’s a whole world of wonderful wildlife within reach of Juneau, which itself is part of a 69,000-square-kilometer national treasure: the Tongass National Forest. The Mendenhall glacier calls this forest home, and so do numerous birds, Sitka spruces, non-poisonous hemlock trees,moss and lichen, and edible berries. Hikers can join guided walking tours like the Mendenhall Glacier Guide’s Choice Trail Hike to enjoy these natural wonders.
If you’re around the city center and want a bird’s eye view of Juneau, take a ride on the Mount Roberts Tramway, which will whisk you up a steep 549-meter incline to the top of the mountain. Take snaps of the city and the Gastineau Channel from on high, get a close-up look of the resident bald eagle, embark on a leisurely trail hike and grab some souvenirs before you make your way back down.
Perks of being an isolated coastal town? An abundance of amazingly fresh seafood. Dig into steamed Alaskan king crab legs the length of your arm at Juneau’s most popular eatery, Tracy’s King Crab Shack. Line up patiently at the ordering station, take your pick of dungeness, king and snow crab specialties, then wait for your name to be called and the steaming hot dishes to be delivered straight to your table.
Although there are lodgings available in Juneau, one of the more convenient ways to get here is by cruise ship, for a day trip. Gather your family or a group of friends, pack a lot of books and a deck or cards for downtime (trust us, there’ll be plenty of that while you’re out at sea), and embark on your ocean liner in Seattle, the designated port for most of the Alaskan cruises. There are plenty of cruises to choose from: Royal Caribbean and Silversea are two examples.
There are also daily direct flights from Seattle to Juneau and other major Alaskan cities.
If you sign on for a cruise, your Alaska itinerary will be pretty much sorted for you. Going solo? Don’t forget to take a side trip to Skagway, a neighbor borough in the panhandle. You’ll have access to the Denver Glacier and more dog mushing tours by helicopter and seaplane, as well as a chance to hop on the White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad: a picturesque train ride through the historic Klondike Gold Rush trail.